FHFA strengthens contractual protection for whistleblowers

Agency updates contract procedures to include vital protection clauses

FHFA strengthens contractual protection for whistleblowers

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has taken significant steps to bolster whistleblower protections for employees of its contractors following an audit by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) that spotlighted some gaps in its practices.

Federal laws are in place to protect employees from retaliation if they report wrongdoing, such as gross mismanagement or legal violations tied to federal contracts. However, a 2021 review found that the FHFA hadn’t included a crucial whistleblower protection clause from FAR in most of its contracts.

“Our 2021 audit found that FHFA did not include a FAR whistleblower protection clause in 24 of 26 contracts (92%) that exceeded a threshold dollar amount (also known as the simplified acquisition threshold, SAT or threshold),” Brian Baker, deputy inspector general of FHFA’s Office of Compliance, wrote in the report. “We recommended that FHFA include this clause in all open market solicitations (i.e., those seeking items not in the Federal Supply Schedule) and awards that exceed the threshold.”

Prompted by these findings, the FHFA addressed the issue by introducing a series of corrective actions in early 2022. These actions included updating internal manuals and consistently reminding contracting officers about the importance of this requirement during weekly meetings.

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To verify these improvements, a follow-up review was launched to check contracts awarded between Jan. 11, 2022, and July 11, 2023. This review confirmed that all 15 contracts examined had correctly included the whistleblower protection clause, marking a complete turnaround from the previous audit’s findings.

“We requested that FHFA exclude solicitations and awards made by FHFA using government-wide acquisition contracts, which are administered by other agencies,” the report read. “We also requested that FHFA exclude solicitations and awards where OIG received goods or services.  We were provided open market solicitations and awards that exceeded the threshold, which we reviewed to determine whether FAR clause 52.203.17 was included.”

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